The restructuring of Colombia's underworld in the wake of the demobilization of the FARC guerrillas continues apace, with cells of criminalized former fighters seeking new alliances, rebuilding old ones and striking out on their own.
The ex-FARC mafia -- networks of former fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) -- have rapidly emerged as central players in the Colombian underworld, using their criminal and military experience to take control of drug trafficking real estate and activities.
What remains to be seen, is how these emerging actors will interact with each other and with other criminal organizations as the Colombian underworld moves through this transitional period. New media reports from three of Colombia’s principal drug trafficking hubs, though, offer clues as to the directions they will take as these groups start to forge new alliances and create new networks.
Colombia’s largest and most established ex-FARC mafia group, the network based on the 1st Front dissidents that broke away from the peace process, is now trying to reorganize ex-FARC fighters in Catatumbo, a drug production hotspot along the Venezuela border, La Silla Vacia reported.
According to La Silla Vacia’s sources in the security forces, one of the most senior figures in the 1st Front Dissidence network, Géner García Molina, alias “Jhon 40,” arrived in Catatumbo earlier this year to organize the growing number of ex-FARC fighters from the 33rd Front that had returned to arms.
SEE ALSO: 1st Front Dissidence Profile
Security forces estimate the group now has 33 fighters, although other sources told La Silla Vacia they could have up to around 200. The group is dedicated to recovering the FARC’s drug trade interests in the region, but has also begun recruiting youths, carrying out political work and trying to remobilize its social base, the report states.
The attempt to organize Catatumbo dissidents under the umbrella of the 1st Front dissidence, may be part of a reported plan to reconfigure a FARC network in the south of the country, or it could just be an attempt on the part of the dissidence’s leadership to gain access to drug production zones outside of their strongholds in the eastern departments of Guaviare, Vaupés, Meta and Vichada.
However, they are operating in volatile territory. Catatumbo is currently the site of a vicious conflict between Colombia's last remaining guerrilla insurgency, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), and drug trafficking guerrilla splinter group the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – EPL), and the right to control former FARC drug trade interests is at the heart of this fight.
While FARC dissident groups may be joining forces in the east of the country, other ex-FARC mafia groups are determined to go at it alone. In the southwestern department of Putumayo, one such cell has established control over production territories and built up their own transnational trafficking contacts, according to a new report in El Tiempo.
The report identifies former 48th Front member Pedro Oberman Goyes Cortés, alias “Sinaloa,” as the head of an approximately 50-strong ex-FARC mafia cell that allegedly controls territory in Putumayo, a department on the Ecuador border. Before abandoning the peace process, Sinaloa was allegedly in charge of trafficking cocaine shipments through Ecuador.
The report states that Sinaloa’s cell controls a region containing tens of thousands of hectares of coca crops, and partners with local trafficking network “La Constru.” Sources told El Tiempo Sinaloa has established direct contacts with the Balkan Mafia to ship the cocaine produced in the region to Europe.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Ex-FARC Mafia
According to the report, another key commander of the 1st Front Dissidence network, Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte,” sent an emissary to encourage Sinaloa to become part of their network and demanding he paid a “tax” to the leadership on drugs produced and trafficked out of the country.
The answer was a clear no. “[He said] he had no political interests as a guerrilla since his business is drug trafficking and that besides he was not interested in taking orders from anyone,” investigators told El Tiempo.
Sinaloa’s refusal to work with the broader ex-FARC mafia network has led to a violent dispute that has seen unidentified bodies found floating in local rivers, according to the report.
Nudo de Paramillo Region
Aside from forging alliances with other dissident groups and taking control over drug markets independently, other FARC dissidents are teaming up with some of Colombia’s most notorious criminal groups.
Former 58th Front member alias “Mico” has become a trusted lieutenant of Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel,” the embattled leader of Colombia’s top drug trafficking group, the Urabeños, according to another report in El Tiempo.
Mico is allegedly coordinating Otoniel’s security detail with 15 other dissidents from the 58th Front who initially demobilized and then decided to abandon the peace process and instead forge an alliance with the Urabeños in the Nudo de Paramillo, a drug production and trafficking hub that spans northern Antioquia and southern Córdoba departments.
The decision of the former guerrillas in the Nudo de Paramillo to seek alliances with the Urabeños instead of fellow dissidents is unsurprising given the regional context of previous partnerships formed between the 58th Front and the Urabeños to manage drug trade interests and territories. However, if the reports are true, it is notable that the former guerrilla has become so close so quickly to Colombia’s most-wanted criminal, who has spent the last three years on the run.
*This article was written with assistance from InSight Crime's Colombia Investigative Team.